In anticipation

The festival lanterns hang, a promise of beautiful blooms to come. These paper lanterns are a common sight at festivals in Japan. Shiroyama park in Okegawa has hung these lanterns for the cherry blossoms, which are set to bloom any day now. It is a long practiced and much revered tradition to picnic under the cherry blossom trees in Japan.

Saitama Municipal Youth Astronomical Museum

It’s spring break in Japan.  It is also end of school year.  Traffic tends to increase and queues lengthen, but there are still some hidden gems that evade the chaos. Saitama’s space museum, or officially the Saitama Municipal Youth Astronomical Museum, is one such place.

★Free entry for parents and children
★Parking is free
★Rainy day okay
★Suitable for all ages
★Special events
★Elevator
★Nappy / Diaper changing facilities
★Rest area

There is something for everyone at this space museum located on the old grounds of Urawa Reds (Saitama soccer team) at Komaba stadium. Children can learn about space and science through the various interactive and educational displays, play areas, reading area and special events available free of charge. There is also a planetarium that costs 510 yen per adult or 200 yen for students aged 4 and up.

Information and Access

Address: 2-3-45 Komaba, Urawa-city, Saitama, Japan
URL: http://www.kagakukan.urawa.saitama.jp/main.html
TEL:  048-881-1515
Cost: Free entry to the museum, **the planetarium is 510 yen per adult or 200 yen for students aged 4 and up
Opening hours: 9.00 – 17.00
Holidays: Mondays except for public holidays. Closed for New Year from December 28th to January 4th.
Access:
By train – Take a bus from either Urawa or Kita Urawa stations for 「宇宙科学館入口」
By car – 15 minutes from Urawa Interchange



 

My guest post: Cherry Blossom Viewing in Tokyo | K-A International Mothers in Japan

I guest posted on  K-A International Mothers in Japan for the 2nd ever. The first time was a strawberry picking article, so check that out if you are looking for somewhere to pick strawberries in the Kanto plain. This time its a list of places to view Cherry blossoms in Tokyo, with access and contact details as well as other information. Please check it out!

For a cherry blossom craft please see here: http://kajapan.org/general/cherry-blossom-craft/

The Royal Gastro Club; White Day in Japan

Today is White Day in Japan; Valentine’s day for girls. My daughters got a really lovely present with a REALLY unfortunate name.  These delightful character chocolates and macaroons come to you from the Royal Gastro Club.  Where I’m from gastro is short for gastroenteritis, which is basically the stomach flu! Thankfully these culinary delights did not cause any stomach upset, although if truth be told they were a bit too sweet even for me.

They came in a cute paper house package, with the characters peeping out the window. The girls delighted in opening the door.

Gastronomy
Inside there were macaroons in the shape and design of animal faces.
Gastronomy macaroons And chocolate cats.Chocolate cat white There was a selection of different types of cats, but my kids ate most of them before I could snap them!chocolate cat brown

Easter in Japan; limited edition Disney cakes!

When I first came to Japan in 2000 there was nothing in the shops for Easter. I have watched the selection of Easter goodies grow over the years.  Marketers are cashing in on the commercialism of the holiday, if nothing else. I’m not complaining; the choice of seasonal “Easter” cakes are one of the many perks of Japan’s new(ish) interest in Easter. These Ginza Cosy Corner bite size cakes taste as good as they look!



Manhole Covers

I used to think I was an observant person, until my cousin sent me an article about manhole covers in Japan. I was in Japan more than 10 years when she sent me the link about the ornate manhole covers here. My first instinct was that it must be in a part of Japan that I have never visited…

Then I started looking down

Manhole (2)

and sure enough each city’s manhole cover is different. 

"MatsumotoManholeCover" by Original uploader was Rei at en.wikipedia - Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MatsumotoManholeCover.jpg#mediaviewer/File:MatsumotoManholeCover.jpg
“MatsumotoManholeCover” by Original uploader was Rei at en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MatsumotoManholeCover.jpg#mediaviewer/File:MatsumotoManholeCover.jpg

 

Often they are representative of the city.  For example, I recently posted about the 100 caves of Yoshimi, which is the design of the manhole covers in the that city. 

 

Some are in colour, but most are etched into the steel without colour.
PIC_2542
Even the fire hydrant manhole covers have their own special images.
PIC_2541

 

So if you plan to come to Japan, remember to look down! Not only will you see something unique to Japan, but you will also learn something about the area you are visiting.  For those who have visited or live here;  have / did you notice/d them!?

There is a fantastic selection over at the Land of Wa; http://dustinandlaura.blogspot.jp/search/label/Manholes

The wonderful blogger behind Shizuoka gourmet often blogs about this topic and I see he recently posted an in-depth article about it, with fantastic photos, be sure to check it out; http://shizuokagourmet.com/2015/01/20/manhole-covers-in-shizuoka-prefecture-35-new-commemorative-fire-hydrant-manhole-cover-in-shzuoka-city/

Shiroyama Park, Okegawa 

We’ve been hanging out in Shiroyama park quite a lot recently. Thanks to the Family Walker magazine featuring the new piece of playground equipment (pictured) and suggesting it as a hanami location. We had visited a few times in the past, but it didn’t make an impression. It does now.Shiroyama park

The timing was convenient, too. The kids have taken turns bringing lurgy into the house;  Shiroyama has the perfect playground for sick days.  The playground (by the tennis courts, near the main parking area off route 12), isn’t too expansive, is in the sun, but surrounded by trees, and has a sandpit.  Another benefit for our family is that there is something for each of their ages.  5 year old likes the flying fox and climbing bars. 4 year old likes the see saw and climbing wall. 2 year old likes the seesaw and climbing net. 4 month likes the view. They all love the sandpit that has two sliding tunnels (last photo); something we haven’t seen anywhere else below.

Shiroyama park also has an adventure playground, a paddling pool, and hanami, picnic and BBQ areas.  The BBQ area is free to use, but you need to physically go into the park’s management area up to a day before to book a place. There is a cot in the toilet for the disabled for changing nappies, but to be honest the park’s toilets could do with an upgrade! It is five minutes by car from the Okegawa – Kitamoto interchange on the Ken-O Expressway. It takes one hour by car from Tokyo. Parking and all the facilities in Okegawa (excluding vending machines!) are free. DSCF3784

Information and Access

Phone: 048-786-5881
URLhttp://www.city.okegawa.lg.jp/shisetsu/55/251/p000694.html

Google Maps:

 

DSCF3790
 

DSCF3794

The family toilet!

The Irish in me can’t believe I am blogging about toilets. In Ireland, all things toilet are considered crude and crass. I think I may be in Japan too long, where neither the loo nor poo is considered taboo! A typical Japanese public family toilet really is worth showcasing, though, especially in this series of posts about the family friendly utilities (if you’ll pardon the pun) readily available in Japan.

Family bathroom

The above type of family toilet, with a child size loo and an automated regular toilet, complete with heated seat and inbuilt bidet options (I kid you not), is quite common in this area of Japan.  The baby keep my daughter is sitting in is a standard feature of most public toilets built in the last 10 years or so. I live in hope that these will  catch on someday in Europe! They are such a simple idea and so practical. The seat folds up when it’s not in use and it can be used from the time a baby can support their own head.

The below toilet is possibly the best family toilet I have ever encountered. Apart from the automated toilet, infant toilet, baby keep, hand basin and changing bed pictured, there is also an urinal, an ostomate sink, an automated sink, a flip down platform for use in changing clothes (so you don’t have to stand on the floor) , automatic lighting and an emergency button.

Kitamoto Childrens Park Family Toilet So you see, Japanese family toilets really are worth blogging about!

For those in Japan, have you seen any family toilet that could top this? For those outside of Japan, are there baby keeps in your country? Or has anyone ever seen a baby keep anywhere other than Japan?

Family friendly Japan 

Nursing room

A comment by the lovely And Three To Go on my “These are brilliant” post , made me realize that Japan is not synonymous with being “family friendly “. Here in the Kanto plain* it definitely deserves that accolade.  I have found living and travelling in Japan with young children to be very easy and efficient. Due to the number and standard of services and utilities provided for free in both public and private places, it is very easy to spend time out and about as a family, even with a newborn.

Pictured is one of many Baby rooms you can find in many locations throughout Japan.  You can see the taps for washing your hands. Paper towels are provided for free. This particular room has two nursing booths, where you can feed your baby in private, if you wish to do so, by drawing over the curtain. If you are bottle feeding the note on the wall says that you can receive boiled water from the staff. Often these rooms have instant boiled water taps or a burco in them. I have found that the rooms are always spotless and well maintained. 

I like that when we go out the door we know that wherever we end up there will, most likely, be some convenient family facilities available to us in our family friendly Japan. ????

*Kanto plain is the area around and including Tokyo. It is made up of the prefectures of Tokyo, Kanagawa (Yokohama), Chiba, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Gunma and Saitama.

These are brilliant!

We go out to eat a lot as a family, but with a newborn it can be challenging. Most of the aisles in restaurants in our part of Japan are too narrow for our Out and About buggy or our Graco double buggy, meaning we have to carry the baby.  There are restaurants with tatami floors where you can lie a baby beside you, as we have done in the past, but these come with other issues and concerns. We have eaten in some hotels that actually provide Moses baskets or some form of day bed, but for a casual meal out we prefer to go to a family restaurant. Therefore, dinner often involved hubby or I either taking turns holding the baby, or one of us wearing them in a baby carrier trying to coordinate hand to mouth without spilling too much food on the baby.  That is until serendipity led us to a family restaurant with bassinets for newborns or babies who are not yet mobile. It only took to our fourth child to discover these convenient gems, but better late than never. This particular bassinet was enjoyed in the Bamiyan on route 406 in Higashi Matsuyama. Unfortunately, not every Bamiyan has them, as we discovered at the weekend when the kawagoe branch staff had no idea what we were talking about!

If there is a place you like to go to while dining with a small baby, please do share in the comments. ????